Friday, March 07, 2008

Open Evolution

I am starting a new blog theme here on Open Evolution. By that I mean, evolutionary biology studies that are in some form of open science format. This would include Open Access evolution publications, open source evolution programs, open data on evolution projects, etc.

Today I am focusing on Open Access publications with interesting Evolution themes.

First, there are some fully Open Access journals with a specific focus on Evolution (I found some of these through the Lund Univeristy's Directory of Open Access Journals). These include
There are of course other fully OA journals that have a decent chunk of the papers on some evolution related topic:
If anyone knows of any other Open Access evolution journals, please let me know.


  1. The new journal Evolution: Education and Outreach has so far made all of its content online free:

  2. Well, free online access and open access are not the same thing. For example, this material seems to all be copyrighted to Springer and the reuse of it seems to be difficult. For example, if you click on the link that says "permissions" next to the Table of Contents you get:

    To request reuse of content from this Springer Science+Business Media journal, please e-mail Springer Rights & Permissions directly at for assistance.

    This journal is not currently supported for reuse licensing through Rightslink.

    Please include content information available on (article title, author, date, issn, volume, issue), your request details, your contact information, and a link to the content on SpringerLink if available.

    To purchase or view a PDF of this article, please close this window and select "add to shopping cart".

  3. Okay, thanks, Jonathan, for the clarification...

  4. its too bad that is far from really open access as it seems to have some interesting and useful material

  5. I would definitely like to see more open access journals dedicated to evolution/genetics. The choices at the moment are somewhat limited.

  6. I agree Graham ... there certainly could be more. I have in a limited way raised the issue with JME and MBE but did not get very far. The resistance to OA is why I resigned as an Academic Editor at JME and basically why I eventually stepped down from MBE (MBE is much better but still not OA).

  7. What advantage do journals get by retaining the copyright? Why do many journals opt for this halfway house of free online access?

    Overall I think that lack of choice is what stops many people from publishing open access. There are relatively few high-prestige open access journals (other than plos). I suspect that the majority of people would publish OA, if there were simply more options. PLoS is a great standard bearer, but we need a few more high-quality OA journals/publishers like it.

  8. Graham

    I think you are right for a certain percentage of the scientific community. That is, there are some who would publish in OA if there were more options that were more prestigious. But it is unclear what that percentage is.

    There are some additional angles to this worth considering:

    At what point will these people switch? How many will only do it if the OA journal is (by whatever criteria they want to use) MORE prestigious than the non OA ones? And how many will consider OA as a component of the prestige itself?

    Another thing to think about - why is prestige of the journal is important to people. In many cases, researchers have told me "I support OA, but I am worried about tenure or promotion, etc" I accept this is a really big concern and what we supporters of OA need to do is work to change the review, hiring and promotion systems to give more credit for OA publishing.

    However, I think in many cases, scientists are less concerned about their job status than they are about their egos. What will convince these people to publish in OA journals?

    Certainly, having highly prestigious OA journals helps because then scientists will want to publish there regardless of why prestige is important to them.

    But in the end, I personally think scientists should publish in OA journals because it is the right thing to do. And if that comes at a cost of prestige, so be it. If we all did this, then the prestige would even out immediately. And then there would simply be competition among OA journals.

    With all of these (and other) issues in moving towards a more OA world for evolution and other fields, this is why I think we need to work on many fronts to promote OA. We need to lobby funding agencies to make this a requirement. We need to encourage hiring and promotion systems to count OA favorably. We need to create prestigious OA journals (e.g., PLoS Biology). We need to show ego benefits to scientists for OA publishing (e.g., citations increase, your ideas spread, etc). We need to create new ways of publishing that speed the spread of science (e.g., PLoS One) And so on.

    OK --- A bit too long for a response but it was itching to come out.

  9. Springer retains the copyright on E:EO, but they also don't charge page charges. So, in a sense, it's free for authors AND free for readers, and the only issue as noted is permission to reprint, which follows the more typical approach.

  10. Oh, I also should have mentioned that Springer does offer "Open Choice", in which authors pay $3000 (vs. $2750 in PLoS) to retain copyright.

  11. Retaining the copyright (by Springer) and requiring permission for reuse stifles openness. This means for example, that the material will not be in pubmed central and other open archives. It also means that unlike articles in BMC and PLOS journals that are under a very open creative commons license, the material in this journal cannot be reused easily by others (e.g., for teaching). These are but two examples of how free on Springers web site does not equal OA.

    As for the Open Choice option, this is better than not having the material be non open. However the license they use is a little bit more restrictive than the form of the license used by BMC and PLOS.

    In terms of the cost to make Open Choice, it may be similar to PLoS Biology's full fee. However it is important to note that the PLoS Biology fee is lower for people at member institutions and it is waived with no questions asked for anyone who says they cannot afford it. Also - the fee for publishing in other PLOS journals and BMC journals is significantly lower.

    Finally, the point here was mainly about fully open journals. So - yes, there are other evolution journals like this Springer one, which are open in some way. However, they are far from fully open.

  12. Certainly, and I don't mean to suggest that it is fully open access. I suppose the point is that there is a continuum, and some journals are closer to open access than others. In my view, having the option or at least making content free online is vastly better than subscription only, even if it isn't open access in the full way, and I would lump it closer to "open" than not along the spectrum.

  13. Yes I agree that this is better in the spectrum thn many other journals. But what I did not make clear int he original post is that I was trying to focus ONLY on fully open evolution journals or journals that had a bunch of stuff on evolution.

  14. Yes I agree.

    Though I would say that is not ego that makes people want to publish in big journals (though it is a factor), it's readership. High-prestige wasn't a good choice of phrase, what I really meant was large readership. If you spend a lot of time and effect doing the research and writing a paper you obviously want to publish it somewhere it will get read (otherwise why bother). Even as an established PI, you are not necessarily free to 'risk' publishing in a non-mainstream journal as you want to get your students/postdocs the readership you think their hard work deserves. Scientists are naturally going to be a somewhat conservative crowd when it comes to publishing. Obviously OA has the potential for larger readership (due to the lack of fees) than traditional journals, but I feel this is yet to be realised. Apart from the PLoS family there are no large readership OA journals in biology, at least that I know of.

    As much as I would like my articles to appear in OA journals, my only choices are really PLoS Biology and PLoS genetics (perhaps genome biology, in that counts as OA?). I think that the key to getting the majority of people to go OA will be choice. At the moment there are too few choices of good OA journals to publish in. Getting a good selection of OA journals will as you say ,rely on have OA supported on many different fronts.

    I agree that trying persuading mainstream journals to go OA is a good tactic as then they bring along their reputation and readership. I also like the trend of traditional journals having an option to pay for 'free for readers'. While this is not as good as OA, it is a large step in the right direction.

    I am very impressed with PLoS biology, even more so with PLoS genetics, which has rapidly gotten itself a very good reputation (in population genetics at least) despite being a slightly 'lower-tier' journal. I would be interested to hear your thoughts on why the PLoS family has been so successful. Did PLoS come along at just the right time? Did it have an unusual amount of support/good will from the scientific community for a journal? Do/will other OA projects get such a high degree of support? Do you think we will see any other large successful OA projects emerge (in the vein of PLoS)? Or will the next stage of OA, be already established journals turning to OA?

  15. All good points and questions though I disagree with some of the points a bit.

    Here are some comments first and then maybe some answers

    1. I think you grossly overestimate the effect a journals name will have on readership in the future and even now. What will matter the most is getting the word out. As more and more people use search engines and search systems to find papers, there will be less and less looking at tables of contents per se.

    Sure, big name journals will still get people looking at them regardless of whether there is a specific paper of interest. But all the middle ware journals will get a bigger and bigger fraction of their readers from key word searches and recommendations and such. And in this world, the Web 2.0 Science Publishing world, if your paper is not using an open creative commons license, it will get less read.

    2. As for whether I am free to risk publishing in a non mainstream journal, I think in fact I am. Students and post docs in my lab can aim for high profile OA journals if they can get their papers published there. If they cannot, they will have to find a lower profile OA journal. We will not publish in non OA journals if we have a choice. Period. I do not think this will cost any of them jobs or fellowships. But they may have to do a bit of leg work to make sure their papers and their work gets attention if it is published in low profile OA journals. And of course, I will help with that and that is one of the reasons I started the blog.

    3. I think you are missing out on one of the key advantages of true OA publishing. Anyone out there is free to use material from my PLoS papers as long as they attribute it correctly. This has led to many cases where figures of mine and other material has ended up in newspapers, textbooks, blogs, websites, reports, etc. And this is a great way to increase readership for my work.

    4. Regarding large readership OA journals in Biology I think there are some outside of PLoS. Nucleic Acids Research for example. Also some of the BMC journals have high impact factors and are widely read. Genome Biology, for example which is OA for all research papers. BMC Genomics is also widely read as are some other BMC journals.

    Then there are the almost OA journals that release all publications to pubmed central after a period of time and also have reasonable release policies. PNAS is my favorite of these. The ASM journals do a reasonable job in this regard as does Genetics and certainly a variety of others. I find these journals acceptable to publish although I do favor ones with more open Creative Commons licenses and immediate release such as PLoS journals.

    5. As for why PLoS has been so successful versus some other OA attempts, I am probably too caught up in PLoS to address that completely objectively. I think PLoS did a really good job of recruiting top editors and scientists to help run the journals and set very high goals for quality of papers and other material.

    6. What the next stage in the OA movement is is not entirely clear. I would guess that some journals will move to more OA. Some will die because they do not make any attempt. But one thing I think is exciting is what PLoS is doing with its Topaz/Commenting functions (e.g., see PLoS One). And another thing that must be coming soon is people making their own virtual journals where they select papers from OA journals and highlight them as the papers of the week or month. This could be something like Faculty of 1000 but would be more like a virtual journal.

    I imagine another OA thing for the future will be new for profit ventures that provide useful compilations and analyses of OA papers and plan to make money off of advertisements. Given the absurd value of Google, I think people could easily make money by doing this.

    As each of these things become used more and more, it will be the publications that use CC licenses that will be the most widely distributed and thus most widely read. Then, whether driven by ego or more noble goals, scientists will all want to publish in such places or their ideas will be left behind.

  16. yes, you make good points and I mostly agree with you. I regularly read blogs and so I do value people being able to use figures. As people get more adept at searching, journals (as collections of papers) will become less important. I also like the idea of people publishing their own journals/feeds. However, this will not (in the short term) replace the function of good-quality journals as having strong (admittedly imperfect) peer-review. In this respect I think you are somewhat wrong about the weight carried by a journal's name. People compiling feeds/blogs will have to rely on the articles they compile having been through a good peer review process (especially when those papers are outside their main area of expertise).

    I think that a journal name does carry a strong reputation with it. I value journals (such as genetics, Evolution, PLoS genetics etc) where I can rely on the majority of articles having got a good thorough review. This means that when I read outside my area, I'm not reading misleading work, and that when people read my papers (in good quality journals) they hopefully can feel the same. I read articles pretty critically, but often do not have the knowledge to know whether to trust an article outside my area that appears in a journal I do not know. This is why I want to publish in good quality journals, though I am very aware that high-readership does not always equal well reviewed. The field of evolution needs more quality mid to high level OA journals.

    Obviously you have a strong reputation for being an OA advocate, which means that articles you (and your group) publish in lower profile OA journals are understood as a stand about OA. But less well known researchers publishing in low profile OAs currently risk their articles being viewed as rejections from higher tier journals. In my view the way to strongly establish OA is to make it be associated with high-quality widely-read science (as PLoS has done), this will naturally lead people to want to publish and read OA content. This also would and does lead to strong pressure for other journals to go OA, as it highlights that OA is not a compromise (which it should not have to be).


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